Marooned In Iraq
Wellspring // Unrated // $24.98 // October 7, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted October 25, 2003
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Movie: If I told you I was going to let you in on a secret, would you listen? Well, I hope I can convey the secret in a manner that will get the more open-minded of you to check out a fascinating little independent film released by Wellspring recently, Marooned In Iraq. Before I get started, it's not about an American fighter pilot who's shot down and on the run from Saddam Hussein's forces either.

The movie centered on an older man of Kurdish descent who is sent a letter by his ex-wife that she needs him. Apparently, some time in his past she left him for another man (all three were singers in a group) and he has lived his meager life spreading his song and verse to an audience that fully appreciates him. Life in the Kurdish region of Iran is not an easy thing and with the various wars taking place over the years (be they the Iran/Iraq war, the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, Saddam's war on the Kurds using chemical weapons, or any of the other undeclared wars taking place there), people are lucky to scrape by on a day-to-day basis. The old man's name is Mirza, and he sets out to find his former wife in order to help her as that is his way. To face the dangers of crossing the border, he enlists his two grown up sons, Barat and Audeh. One is a family man with several wives and many daughters and the other is more of a drifter who also enjoys status as a musician. Both go with their dad reluctantly, thinking he's going on a fool's errand but refuse to allow him to face the dangers alone.

Along the way on their perilous journey, they encounter all sorts of people from profiteers who praise Saddam for making all forms of technology profitable, to children that know no better than to ignore war jets as they seek to eliminate more Kurds to simple tribesmen who do whatever they must to survive and more. As the trio face the dangers of the open road, they also find a lot of people who are simply lost along their own paths. With all the strife in the region, most of the people are lost souls, hoping against all reason that some day things will be better. In the midst of their bleak lives, they also encounter numerous examples of gallows humor (when the profiteer gets his comeuppance, I howled with laughter) that under any other circumstances would be viewed as tragic.

Okay, without ruining too much of the movie, suffice it to say that each member of this mission (of sorts) has their own personal agenda as well and go to their destiny as they are able. The symbolism is a bit overwhelming at times and for those who enjoy metaphors in their films will have enough to dissect for months. In short, this is not a light-hearted film to take a new date to enjoy. For all its complexities, the movie has an awful lot to say and my single viewing barely scratched the surface here. If you like foreign films that have a lot to say, some of it uplifting and most of it tragic, especially given the events taking place since this movie was made, you're going to love this one. Fans who watched it in small art-house theatres will appreciate the new subtitles that are far easier to read than the original white ones (the new ones are yellow and much easier to read) too. So, my rating for the movie is a solid Recommended, based on the content and presentation. The film has its flaws but they are small compared to the vision presented here by Director Bahman Ghobadi.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color. The most obvious defect of the picture was the multitude of print scratches and the routine artifacts that popped up but they don't dilute the message nearly as much as they could have with weaker material. Considering the conditions under which this movie was filmed, it's pretty amazing how good it looks, even though there was also some motion artifacts and video noise from time to time.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of both a 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital Kurdish track and optional English subtitles. As mentioned before, the newly added subtitles were much easier to read and added to the enjoyment of the film. The audio itself was not without fault but overall it sounded pretty good for such a low budget movie.

Extras: The primary extra was the interview with the director. It lasted nearly twenty minutes and helped explain a lot of background data regarding the movie, which shared several similarities to his earlier movie, A Time For Drunken Horses. There was also a director's filmography and trailer to the movie.

Final Thoughts: I'm not going to kid you and suggest I agree with every political point the director was trying to make but he was very persuasive in a number of cases. His use of music to reflect the cultural strengths of the Kurds along with the many great characters who were all a bit weird to my sensibilities all added up to making this one a movie I'll go back to someday, hopefully soon, when seeking answers to that regions problems.

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